I have just returned from Italy where my four daughters and I spent the last week taking in the sights of Pisa, Pompei and Rome.
Visiting Italy is something I have wanted to do for a very long time. It was great to finally get there and it certainly lived up to expectation.
Travelling from Ireland in March meant we were somewhat limited in our choice of flights and airports. After some consideration I decided to fly into Pisa and begin our adventure there.
I didn’t know much about Pisa before I went and would have joked about it being famous mainly for its wonky tower. However when I got there and visited the leaning tower I found it rather sad that the name of the original architect was lost in the mists of history, presumably because the fabulous bell tower was considered a disaster from the start. If only that shamed architect could have known that almost 1,000 years later the tower would be among the most famous landmarks on the planet with tourists travelling from all around the world to visit it.
Regardless of the obvious architectural error, the tower is very beautiful with a lot of intricate decorative detail and stonework. I did intend to climb to the top but unfortunately claustrophobia (which I thought I had conquered) kicked in. I think it must have been the combination of a slight dizziness of climbing steps in a circular motion, the narrowness of the enclosed stairway and the number of other people there. I got almost half way up before being overcome by the need to get back into open space as quickly as possible. Apart from that, I thoroughly enjoyed the visit.
There are a number of other monuments on the site. I didn’t think the kids would have been too impressed if I had decided to visit all of them so we limited our visit to the leaning tower and the cathedral. The cathedral is a stunning piece of architecture but also a gallery of incredible marble sculptures and paintings that are hundreds of years old but still full of life and colour and in immaculate condition. I don’t have enough knowledge of art history to be any more specific, all I can say is that it was all very, very impressive.
One of the highlights of the visit to Pisa was a tour in a horse and cart. The driver was a great tour guide with a decent level of English. What I really learned from that tour was just how old the buildings in the main part of the city were, and how many churches and other places of interest were nestled among the modern shops and restaurants. The various university faculties were also evident and there was a great sense of history behind each one, especially the link with Galileo and the faculty of mathematics.
After our horse and carriage tour we returned to one of the areas we had passed through, Piazza Dei Cavalieri (Knights’ Square). This part of Pisa is well worth visiting and is a great place to relax and get the feel of the city away from the crowds at the tower. From its decorative clock tower to the Palace of the Elders, the Palace of the Archives and the church dedicated to the Knights of the Order of Stephen, this square is steeped in social and political history. Parts of the square are still used by the university today, most notably in the field of mathematics and scientific research.
Of course we also found time for shopping, picking up some great bargains in familiar high street stores which did not detract at all from the character of the historic streets.
The food too was great, from proper Italian stone-baked pizza to deliciously simple pasta dishes and wonderful ice-cream.
After two nights in Pisa it was time to move on, so after breakfast we said goodbye to our lovely hosts at the Hotel Moderno and took the first of three trains that would bring us to Pompei and the next leg of our Italian adventure.